Metabolism of arsenic by sheep chronically exposed to arsenosugars as a normal part of their diet: 1. Quantitative intake, uptake, and excretion

H.R. Hansen, A. Raab, K.A. Francesconi, J. Feldmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

80 Citations (Scopus)


Information on the effects of long-term organoarsenical consumption by mammals is limited despite the fact that foodstuffs, especially seafood, often contain organoarsenicals at very high concentrations. Here we evaluate the intake, uptake, and excretion (urine and feces) of arsenic by sheep that live on North Ronaldsay in the Orkney Islands and naturally consume large amounts of arsenosugars through their major food source-seaweed. The sheep eat a broad variety of seaweed species, and arsenic concentrations were determined in all the species observed eaten by the sheep (5.7-74.0 mg kg dry mass). Because of preference and availability, they feed mostly on the seaweed species found to contain the highest arsenic concentrations: Laminaria digitata and Laminaria hyperborea (74 ± 4 mg kg dry mass). To quantify the arsenic intake by the sheep, a feeding experiment reflecting natural conditions as close as possible was set up. In the feeding trial, the average daily intake of arsenic by 12 ewes was 35 ± 6 mg (97% of water-extractable arsenic was present as arsenosugars) gained from feeding on the two brown algae. To test the possible influence of microflora on the metabolism of arsenosugars, six of the sheep were adapted to feeding on grass for 5 months before the start of the trial (control sheep), and the remaining six sheep were kept on their normal seaweed diet (wild sheep). No significant difference in seaweed/arsenic intake and arsenic excretion was found between the two groups of sheep. The arsenic excreted in the feces represents 13 ± 10% (n = 12) of the total consumed, and on the assumption of that, the average urinary excretion is estimated to 86%. The main arsenic metabolite excreted in urine was dimethylarsinic acid (DMA(V)) (60 ± 22%) and minor amounts of dimethylarsinoylethanol (DMAE), methylarsonic acid (MA(V)), tetramethylarsonium ion (TMA), and arsenate (As(V)) together with seven unknown arsenic compounds were also excreted. The urinary arsenic excretion pattern showed a lag period (>4 h) before significant quantities appeared in the urine, an excretion rate that peaked between 4 and 28 h after seaweed intake and a relatively slow half-life (17 h) after end of intake.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)845-851
Number of pages7
JournalEnvironmental Science & Technology
Issue number5
Early online date30 Jan 2003
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2003


  • human urine
  • seaweed
  • arsenobetaine
  • speciation
  • ingestion
  • compound
  • tissues


Dive into the research topics of 'Metabolism of arsenic by sheep chronically exposed to arsenosugars as a normal part of their diet: 1. Quantitative intake, uptake, and excretion'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this